The Canadiens came out strong in the opening frame, trying to take advantage of a tired Canucks squad playing their second game of a back-to-back.
Less than five minutes in, Andrew Shaw nearly put the home team on the board when he tried to convert a pass from Nicolas Deslauriers. But his legs gave way on his way to the net and Anders Nilsson had little trouble turning away Shaw’s wrist shot.
Just under halfway through the first, Max Pacioretty would get his chance to grab Montreal the lead when he found himself all alone on a breakaway. Unfortunately for the Captain, he couldn’t quite settle a bouncing puck to get a good shot off against Nilsson.
Despite the early setbacks, the Canadiens finally grabbed the lead with a goal from an unlikely source. Karl Alzner got the game’s first goal, after his shot was redirected past Nilsson by Canucks defenceman Troy Stecher’s stick. Alzner’s first of the season, his first as a Canadien, put Montreal up 1-0.
Stecher’s luck continued to worsen, as less than two minutes later, he received the first penalty of the game after hooking Pacioretty. But the Canadiens couldn’t double their lead on the ensuing man advantage.
Montreal would return the favour seconds after the Stecher penalty expired, as Jakub Jerabek got two minutes for tripping Sam Gagner. Yet even with the extra man, the Canucks couldn’t generate any offensive pressure.
Instead, the best scoring chance on the Vancouver power play went to Paul Byron, who sped up from centre ice to create a breakaway. He couldn’t beat Nilsson, who kept it a one-goal game.
Though a last minute tripping call on Shaw put the Vancouver Canucks back on the power play to start the second, the Montreal Canadiens managed to get out of the period without giving up a goal.
It took all of 33 seconds before the Canucks man advantage was negated. With Derrick Pouliot sent off for hooking, the Canadiens got set to play 4-on-4 hockey, followed by a one-minute power play. Alex Galchenyuk made no mistake on the shortened advantage, ripping one behind Nilsson to give his team a 2-0 lead.
The march to the penalty box didn’t end there, as Tomas Plekanec was given two minutes on a questionable slashing call. Luckily, Vancouver’s continued struggles on the man advantage gave Montreal enough breathing room to get some scoring opportunities of their own as the period went on.
The best of those chances would go to Charles Hudon, who rang his shot off the post and later Jacob de la Rose, whose 1-on-1 attempt was easily gloved by Nilsson.
Those chances would come back to haunt the Canadiens, when the Canucks finally managed to spoil Carey Price’s shutout bid. Alexander Edler’s shot was tipped by Daniel Sedin to cut Montreal’s lead in half.
The Canadiens got a late power play, when Nic Dowd was penalized for slashing Pacioretty with less than four minutes left in the period. Montreal was unable to regain a two-goal lead on the man advantage, and headed into the final frame up 2-1.
Misfortune stuck early in the third period, when Alzner looked worse for wear after receiving a hit from Daniel Sedin. The defenceman was slow to return to the bench and did briefly head to the dressing room, but he was back on the ice as the period wore on.
Desperate for a tying goal, the Canucks pushed hard in the opening minutes of the period. Just over three minutes in, Brock Boeser set up Michael Del Zotto to make it a 2-2 game.
Undeterred, the Canadiens re-grouped and attacked in waves following the goal. Their relentless offensive pressure paid off when Brendan Gallagher put Alzner’s rebound behind Nilsson just under nine minutes in. Gallagher’s team leading 16th goal of the season made it 3-2 and restored Montreal’s lead.
With less than two minutes left on the clock, the Canucks tried to pull Nilsson to ice an extra attacker. But Gallagher was quick to create a 2-on-1 the other way with Byron. As Nilsson scuttled to get back into position, Gallagher found a streaking Byron to make it a 4-2 game.
Pushing their luck, Vancouver opted to play without a goalie as time continued to dwindle. Pacioretty made them pay for that decision, scoring an empty-netter with less than a minute left in the game. His 10th marker of the season sealed Montreal’s victory over Vancouver, as the Canadiens won the game by a score of 5-2.
- Karl Alzner’s offensive output was unexpected, but much appreciated. Ending the night with both the game’s opening goal and a primary assist on the game-winner, Alzner was definitely a difference-maker against the Canucks. This performance is sure to be a confidence booster for the oft-criticized defenceman, who has been tasked with playing big minutes in Shea Weber’s absence.
- Montreal’s fourth line left a lot to be desired. Jacob de la Rose in particular, had one of his worst performances with the Canadiens. While de la Rose was on the ice, the Canucks controlled over 66% of shot-attempts. Nicolas Deslauriers also put up similar numbers, with the Canucks controlling over 56% of shot attempts when he was on the ice. What will it take to get Daniel Carr back in the lineup over either of those players?
- When the Canadiens win games like this, outshooting, outworking and out-scoring the opposition, it makes it hard to support the notion of tanking for a better draft pick. There is something about watching the team play a complete game, in such dominating fashion, that makes it nearly impossible to actively root for them to lose.